Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“More Fun with Dick and Shane” by Gillibran Brown— A Fun Read

Brown, Gillibran. “More Fun with Dick and Shane: Memoirs of a Houseboy”, CreateSpace, 2007.

A Fun Read

Amos Lassen

Gillibran Brown is a houseboy to two demanding men and has to be all things from chief cook and bottle washer to cleaner and gardener. I understand that this is the second book about Gillibran but it really does not matter that I did not read the first. It does not take long to understand the relationship between the Gillibran and his masters. Shane brought him into the relationship he shares with Dick so that he would take care of the house chores so that he and Dick could concentrate on their businesses and to give Dick an outlet for his S/M tendencies and high sex drive. Gilli Brown is a very funny man and the humor in the book is wonderful but the nature of the relationship perplexed me. Domestic discipline just doesn’t make sense to me. You might think that is a book filled with erotic sex scenes yet is actually about the way the guys get along.

Shane and really seem to love Gilli and prevent him from being hurt emotionally and physically . Gilli seems to be coming more to terms with the rules of the relationship and understands why this situation is what works for him.

“Gay Gringo” by Roy Leonard Landgridge— A Journey to the True Self

Langridge, Roy Leonard. “Gay Gringo: A Memoir”, Independently Published, 2017.

A Journey to the True Self

Amos Lassen

This is Ron’s journey into the discovery of his true nature as he transitions from straight to gay. He was always conscious of a latency waiting to emerge but it took over eleven years and life experiences on two continents for him to achieve full acceptance of himself as a gay man. With Ron it was not just a change in sexuality but a total change in life. It was in the 1980 when he was able to deal with and accept his homosexuality.

When the book opens we see that Ron is upset and unhappy with his life and several friends he convince him to go to EST (Erhard Seminar Training) in an attempt to turn his life around and it worked He realizes the stress his corporate job is causing him life and he accepts that he is gay for the first time. He quits his job, liquidates his properties and invests so he can go a few years without the pressure of finding a new career. While on n vacation with his friend Malcolm he meets a man named Yves who has been traveling for the last 11 years and articles Yves inspires Ron to go to Paris before realizing it would be far easier and more exciting to make a life for himself somewhere new than to come out to everyone he’s already known.

From this point the story follows Ron as he learns about gay relationships, moving around a bit to find his place in the world before settling in Guadalajara, Mexico. He has his share of one-night stands and short-term relationships and he knew that he was looking for something serious.

What could have been a delightful read was hurt by the lack of transitions thus making each experience stand on its own. I thought, at first, that I was reading Ron’s stories as something of a travelogue. However the travelogue gave way to graphic sex scenes that were interrupted to tell us about what was happening in Ron’s life. In fact, when he decides to move away so that he will not have to deal with explaining himself to friends and family makes him look like a coward. I understand self-acceptance to mean something other than shutting out the past so it does not have to be dealt with.

The sex scenes include underage sex too which he freely admits in the text and he tells us that he preferred younger men. I have no idea as to whether this is fiction or not but I supposed it was true because the title says it is a memoir.

Some of Ron’s insights into his homosexuality are interesting but my main problem here is the unneeded emphasis on sex.

 

“Homo GoGo Man: A Fairytale About a Boy Who Grew up in Discoland” by Christopher Duquette— Dancing to Be

Duquettte, Christopher. “Homo GoGo Man: A Fairytale About a Boy Who Grew up in Discoland”, Donnalink Publications, 2014.

Dancing To Be

Amos Lassen

“Homo GoGo Man” is a novel written in the first person about a sexually suppressed boy who learns to dance to express himself, dance for a living, and dance to love life. It begins in the disco era of the 70’s, when Xristo is introduced to the fast world of go-go dancing, hustling, drugs and underground clubs after his first m/m sexual encounter while exploring Times Square after he arrives at college. The story tells of his odyssey to live the big life in New York City as he moves through clubs, more drugs, and a series of boyfriends for twenty years until he bottoms out in his forties from too much hedonism.

This book chronicles the halcyon days of New York’s dance club culture and the rise and fall of Xristo, one of its truly glamorous devotees. We read about the difficulties and wounds of growing up as a gay man in the 1970’s and 80’s and the addiction came out of it for Xristo. We see him discovers NYC, his love of dance & disco as he drowns in too much excess but was lucky enough to find his way back out.

We are taken back in time to the painful world that was drug-fueled and dance-driven era.

 

 

“If I Had the Wings: Short Stories” by Helen Klonaris— Confronting Reality

Klonaris, Helen. “If I Had the Wings: Short Stories”, Peepal Tree Press Ltd., 2017.

Confronting Reality

Amos Lassen

I am not sure that any of us really understand what it means to be human. So often, we find ourselves hating that which we do not understand and shying away from those who did not fit the idea of what we might think is beauty, truth, friendship or what have you. Author Helen Klonaris is a Greek-Bahamian woman who shares what it was to grow up gay in a culture where tradition and religion hold court. In eight short stories, we get to know the author and, in a sense, feel what she feels. Her characters do what so many of us are afraid to do— face reality and understand that it is part of our lives and who we are.

The characters in these stories confront reality head on as they attempt to deal with their communities that are dependent upon and torn by tradition and religion. These communities impose restraints on anyone who is different and does not subscribe to what others consider as the norm. Anyone who has either grown up or lived in this kind of environment will quickly be able to identify with the stories in this collection, yet every one of us and every character is different. What we all share is the desire to belong and to belong on our own terms. We do not ask for tolerance but for acceptance. In order to deal with the realities of our surroundings, we must be willing to confront them and we must confront ourselves as well. There are alternative realities should we feel the need for them and this we see in a few of the stories here.

Growing up gay in the small Greek-Bahamian community, which feels its traditional culture and religious pieties are under threat, is fraught with constraints and even danger. The main characters in Helen Klonaris’s poetic, inventive and sometimes transgressive collection of short stories confront this reality as part of their lives. Yet there are also ways in which young women in several of the stories search for roots in that tradition – to find within it, alternatives to the dominant influence of the Orthodox church.

That church becomes a character in this collection and you feel its presence even when it is not mentioned. Christian theology and practice has not been good to us and has brought about pain and remorse. Is it not fascinating that there are those of us who still love the church? Many have been spiritually destroyed for loving a body that wants nothing to do with us. One of the greatest gifts that we have is the ability to tells stories and often stories, as we see here, provide a catalyst for change and a larger awareness of how we live.

The stories in this collection follow the themes of colonialism, religious fundamentalism, homophobia and sexism, the very issues from which we try to escape. Going back to what I said earlier and what seems to me to be the message of the book is that we must deal with who we are in all of its aspects remembering that it is not enough to “just be”. I absolutely love this book both for what it says and how it says it. The prose is pristine and lyrical and the stories are stories that matter. Before I began to write I had to decide whether to look at each of the eight stories or write about the book as a whole. My choice is obvious here.

29th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners Announced

29th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners Announced

Those with an asterisk have been reviewed here at reviewsbyamolslassen.com

 

Lesbian Fiction

  • Here Comes the Sun, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Liveright Publishing Corporation

Gay Fiction

  • *The Angel of History, Rabih Alameddine, Atlantic Monthly Press

Bisexual Fiction  

  • Marrow Island, Alexis M. Smith, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Bisexual Nonfiction 

  • Black Dove: Mama, Mi’jo, and Me,Ana Castillo, The Feminist Press

Bisexual Poetry 

  • Mouth to Mouth,Abigail Child, EOAGH

Transgender Fiction

  • Small Beauty, jia qing wilson-yang, Metonymy Press

LGBT Nonfiction

  • *How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS, David France, Knopf

Transgender Nonfiction

  • Life Beyond My Body: A Transgender Journey to Manhood in China, Lei Ming, Transgress Press

Lesbian Poetry (TIE)

  • play dead, francine j. harris, Alice James Books
  • The Complete Works of Pat Parker, Julie R. Enszer, Sinister Wisdom/A Midsummer Night’s Press

Gay Poetry

  • Thief in the Interior, Phillip B. Williams, Alice James Books

Transgender Poetry

  • Reacquainted with Life,KOKUMO, Topside Press

Lesbian Mystery

  • Pathogen, Jessica L. Webb, Bold Strokes Books

Gay Mystery

  • Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery, J. Aaron Sanders, Plume

Lesbian Memoir/Biography

  • The Wind is Spirit: The Life, Love and Legacy of Audre Lorde, Dr. Gloria Joseph, Villarosa Media

Gay Memoir/Biography

  • *When We Rise, Cleve Jones, Hachette Books

Lesbian Romance

  • The Scorpion’s Empress, Yoshiyuki Ly, Solstice Publishing

Gay Romance

  • *Into the Blue, Pene Henson, Interlude Press

LGBT Erotica

  • Soul to Keep, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Bold Strokes Books

LGBT Anthology

  • The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care,Zena Sharman, Arsenal Pulp Press

LGBT Children’s/Young Adult

  • Girl Mans Up, M.E. Girard, Harper Teen

LGBT Drama

  • Barbecue/Bootycandy, Robert O’Hara, Theatre Communications Group

LGBT Graphic Novels

  • Wuvable Oaf: Blood & Metal, Ed Luce, Wuvable Oaf: Blood & Metal, Fantagraphics Books

LGBT SF/F/Horror

  • The Devourers, Indra Das, Del Rey

LGBT Studies

  • *Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display,Jennifer Tyburczy, University of Chicago Press

“Waiting for Walker” by Robin Reardon— Very Much Worth “Waiting for Walker”

Reardon, Robin. “Waiting for Walker”, IAM Books, 2017.

Very Much Worth “Waiting for Walker”

Amos Lassen

There are a handful of writers that I look for to review their new books and Robin Reardon is one of those. I was stunned by her first book and have remained stunned with her subsequent books. She in able to get into the minds and feelings of her characters and if that is not enough, she shares them with us.

In “Waiting for Walker”, we meet Micah Jaeger who is having a hard time dealing with life. His parents have ended their marriage and his mother seems to be “losing it” and has begun speaking to a medium in order to communicate with Micah’s older brother who was killed in Afghanistan. Now Micah has had to change schools for his junior year and this has caused him to retreat himself and hiding behind his camera and that he’s gay.

Things changed that day in June when he was photographing a dead seagull. A guy suddenly appears on a sailboat and Micah becomes enchanted with him and the image that he left. His name is Walker Donnell and he has managed to become part of Micah’s dreams. Micah learns that Walker is a member of a wealthy family and his life is very different than his own. Before long the two are really into each other but there is something about Walker that Micah does not know and before Walker can disclose what it is, he wants to be sure that all is ok. However, this is something he has never dealt with before and so he retreats within himself. Micah knows that Walker is special and so he bides his time and waits.

As we can guess, Walter is intersex and confused about not just his anatomy but also about his sexuality. To make things even more difficult is that his mother his religious and very protective of her child. Micah is sure that he wants to be with Walker and so he decides to wait and see, still not knowing Walker’s secret.

When I closed the covers of the book, I simply said “WOW!”. Robin Reardon has done it again but I must say she has moved a step a head by tackling a difficult subject and one that requires research. It would probably be impossible to write a book like this without getting the background on intersex people. Walter’s intersexuality means that he has

a chromosomal condition that brings about problems with identity as well as genitalia that are under-developed. leads to combined and underdeveloped We learn early on that Micah identifies himself as gay while Walker is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality and his intersexuality. We gain insight into what this all means. Because this is such a difficult condition to understand, writer Reardon relieves the tension by introducing subplots and so we read about Micah’s brother who went missing in action in Afghanistan and about Walker’s adopted sister. There is the story of the divorce of Micah’s parents, Islam and Micah’s fear of sharks. Now you may wonder what any of these have to do with each other, but do not worry, Reardon knows what she is doing and all comes together as we read.

As I write this, I am still stunned by the strength of this book and how Robin Reardon always manages to hit the nail on the head to give us something more than just a read. Robin Reardon is a fine writer. I always get the feeling that she chooses each word carefully. I cannot help but wonder how many rewrites she went through to bring us this book. What I really love about this novel is the way she took a very complex subject, researched it, and then presented it to her readers in ways that is completely understandable.

This book arrived today along with other books and movies to review. I chose to not even look at what else came and immediately sat down to read about Micah and Walker, skipping lunch and other items on today’s personal agenda. I read right through the day and then began to write this, constantly referring back to the text to make sure that my thoughts were not clouded by the emotions I felt as I read.

On the more personal side, let me tell you about my relationship with Robin who I met for the first time last year. It seems like yesterday that I read her first book, “Throwing Stones” which was published in 2007. I went back to have a look at the review of it that I wrote back then and I see that I used the same words of praise as I do today. I know nothing about her sexuality or her connections with the LGBT community so I understand that whatever she writes comes from her inner being and it is spurred along by her wonderful ability to tell a story. I had no idea what to expect when I first met Robin so anything she did or said was a surprise. What I saw that day, over coffee, in Waltham, Massachusetts was the sincerity of a woman who wants to make this world a better place for everyone and she has done so by giving humanity to her characters, most of whom are LGBT. We need more people like her but it is important that Robin hold onto her special place in the canon of LGBT literature. She is a special treasure.

 

“Marriage of a Thousand Lives” by SJ Sindu— Friendship, Family, Love and Loss

Sindu, SJ. “Marriage of a Thousand Lies” Soho Press, 2017.

Friendship, Family, Love, and Loss

Amos Lassen

Lucky and her husband, Krishna, are gay and present an illusion of marital bliss to their conservative Sri Lankan–American families. Each dates on the side. It’s not an ideal situation yet for Lucky, it seems to be working. She goes out dancing, she drinks a bit, she makes ends meet by doing digital art on commission. However, when her grandmother has a nasty fall, Lucky returns to her childhood home and unexpectedly reconnects with her former best friend and first lover, Nisha, who is preparing for her own arranged wedding to a man she’s never met. To do this both women must be able to walk away from the values of their parents and community. Regardless of the choice she makes, Lucky will remain an outsider yet she is pushed to the breaking point. We read here of a life lived at a complex intersection of race, sexuality, and nationality.

Lucky is a young woman who yearns for love and tradition and celebration yet she defies expectations and navigates her own paths. We do not have much literature about Sri Lankan immigrant culture making this a book that reveals the secrets of a community that is somewhere between East and West.

Lucky is the youngest of three daughters of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. She was able to get past the demands that she marry a Hindu man and marries a gay man, Krishna, instead. Kris is willing to father a child and has promised to divorce Lucky if her childhood best friend and first love, Nisha, will marry her.

However, Nisha has agreed to an arranged marriage in order to get out from other her mother’s domination. She is willing to have sex with Lucky and to drink with some lesbian rugby players but she is not willing to cut herself off from family and community by running away with Lucky. Lucky is tired of living lies, even as Nisha drifts toward marrying a proper Hindu husband.

SJ Sindu gives us an engaging narrator and a look at the demands for heteronormative conformity on American-born daughters of a close-knit immigrant community. The Sri Lankan community is not kind to unmarried women, even ones who have reproduced yet is difficult to, sympathize with Nisha’s mother who is intent on marrying her daughter off. She is unable to think that her daughter might have lesbian tendencies.

The novel is et in 2012 in America and is a coming-out novel and an exploration of a culture many readers are not be familiar with. It is also a novel — about the complications and secrets of a family. Subplots include dealing with a grandmother with dementia, children of divorced parents facing the father’s second marriage and loyalties to the mother and pressures to conform to culture and family traditions. There are many contradictions here and these show that life is more open-ended than we realize. Marriage and stability seem important to Lucky’s family and particularly her mother while her father has divorced her mother and married her mother’s best friend, Laila Aunty. Lucky marries Kris so that both of them will have respectability without sacrificing who they truly are, even though they cannot live their truth and be accepted by their families and community.

Author SJ Sindu lets Lucky tell her own story so that we get to experience and understand Lucky’s world and characters and she candidly does so with honesty.

This is not a story about being gay rather it is the story of “a gay person being”. Family, culture, expectations, tradition, education all collide and conflict and come together in ways both expected and unexpected.

Lucky has found a safe way to hide but life takes that away from her. This is not a happy story but it is a story about finding freedom and living with some problems and getting rid of others.

“Lost” by T.T.Trove— Meeting Caesar

T.T. Kove. “Lost”, Arctic Circle Press, 2017.

Meeting Caesar

Amos Lassen

Matt and Caesar meet by chance. Caesar seems to be upbeat and bright and Matt deserves a guy like that. However, Matt is facing some mental health issues and is full of self-recriminations and a mind that is not working to its best ability and pushes him to do things he doesn’t even want to do. Caesar and Matt seems to have found a true connection but this soon becomes a dark story filled with pain and angst.

Matt has had to deal with losing his father suddenly. He was already depressed and this made things worse for him. No one knew that Matt was a cutter and gay.

Caesar sees Matt at his mates party sitting alone and offers him a drink which led to the two leaving the party together and spending the weekend together.

Caesar just wants to love and be loved. They are exactly what the other needs. Sweetness and heartbreak bounce off of each other in the plot and while there is hope, it takes a while to realize it.

 

 

“The Clothesline Swing” by Ahmad Danny Ramadan— The Aftermath of the Arab Spring

Ramadan, Ahmad Danny. “The Clothesline Swing”, Nightwood, 2017.

The Aftermath of the Arab Spring

Amos Lassen

In “The Clothesline Swing” author Ahmad Ramadan, a former Syrian refugee, takes on a journey through the Arab Spring and its aftermath. His story is one of courage and we are with him from that weaves through the mountains of Syria, the valleys of Lebanon, the seas of Turkey and the revolution of Egypt. He then shares his hope of a new home in Canada.

We meet two lovers who cannot let go of the memory of a dying Syria. Hakawati, a storyteller relates this to us and we sense that his inspiration is the collection of “Tales of One Thousand and One Nights”. He uses remembered fables to his dying partner as each night he weaves “stories of his childhood in Damascus, of the cruelty he has endured for his sexuality, of leaving home, of war, of his fated meeting with his lover” He feels that death personified shares the house with the two men and listen to their secrets as he awaits their final undoing.

We have quite a cast of characters including those who suffer from mental illness, “who have lost family or bits of themselves to oppressive regimes, who faced persecution because of their gender or sexuality, who fled or have endured war” Each story is a beauty and come together through glorious prose, yet, each story stands on its own.

“How to Survive a Summer: A Novel” by Nick White— The Trauma of a Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp

White, Nick. “How to Survive a Summer: A Novel”, Blue Rider Press. 2017.

The Trauma of a Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp

Amos Lassen

When he was younger, graduate student Will Dillard was forced to go to gay conversion camp and he thought he had buried his memories of that terrible experience. However, when he finds out a horror movie based on the camp is hitting theaters, he’s forced to face his past and the role he played in another camper’s death. As he remembers his supposed rehabilitation, he takes an impromptu trip back to his Mississippi home and to the camp itself to so that he can deal with those memories and solve the mystery that took place there. Written in the first person, Will’s story is told in flashback and brings together the genres of self discovery, horror, thriller and mystery.

The story starts in the present day as Will Dillard tries to find his place in today’s world. He realizes that he is misplaced and has no strong convictions about anything. His journey of discovery forces him to deal with the memories of that camp and bring past and present together.

The novel has great depth with well-drawn characters who spring to life as we read about them. White writes about the past and the present with detail and it all seems very real. What I especially liked is the way White presents Will who in the beginning is quite the irritating character but who grows in many ways thus causing us to care about him and his life. Will was fifteen when he was sent to camp in the summer of 1999 and he was there for almost four weeks. During that period he was supposed to cured of his homosexuality. This did not happen. Now as a graduate student studying film, he is unable to stay in a romantic relationship and finds that he has a hard time maintaining any kind of human relationship. He has trouble remaining in the present due to the traumas of Camp Levi and he has never been able to discuss with anyone what happened that summer. He therefore has led a solitary life.

The aforementioned horror will is based on a memoir of someone he knew that summer and it has been catching on with the public, causes Will to face his traumatic past and the secrets it contains. Will knows that this is what has kept him from being able to confide in someone else and he is fearful about bringing that summer back. He decides to head home for a bit and to see his father, a former preacher, from whom he has been estranged. As this happens, Will understands that the past cannot be isolated.

Back home, he meets two of his fellow campers and one former counselor, all of whom were part of the events of that summer and Will decides the only thing he can do is go back to the campsite and face what happened and his own complicity in those events. He must also deal with his own identity and the family secrets he has tried to keep hidden as well as those he has taken as his own. Because he has been told over and over that he is an abomination, he is unable to love himself or anyone else.

Will’s journey is not a “straight” one as the book sometimes detours into stories about his family and the stories that his mother told him about women who lived where she was raised. Ultimately, however this is Will’s story as he confronts his demons and deal with his past once and for all. Many will be horrified at what the camp did to those who attended and writer White’s retelling of these events is masterful.

Since I am from the South and spent time in Mississippi, I was especially interested in how White would depict the area and I can tell you that his descriptions of Southern culture, characters and geography are right on. In Mississippi, evangelism and homophobia are intertwined totally. We certainly see the codependence of faith and fear and I am sure that this was not thought of when the world came into being with the evangelical idea of creation.

White’s novel is a story about stories and if you think about that sentence for a moment, you will understand what I am saying here. Identity, family and trauma rub up against each other is lucid and lyrical prose. This is a story that must be told. This is a story that vice president Mike Pence needs to read and have read to him over and over again.